We need to find ways to enhance flexibility and choices, to encourage innovative and creative solutions, and not to reach into the “old bag” of compounding and conflicting regulations as means of limiting the options and or choices.
2023 HAVAN Award Winner: Best In-fill Development ‘Wallis’ by Ronse Massey Developments
Byline: Ron Rapp.
Published in the Monday Morning Briefing, May 1, 2023
The discussion has been going on for several years regarding increasing density on single-family lots that represent most of our urban land area across the Lower Mainland. The issue is one at the root of the affordability challenges currently at hand in our industry. Shifting the opportunity to intensify use on a relatively small proportion of available lands and forcing costly and lengthy rezoning processes makes those properties very valuable and fails to meet the growing demand which further escalates the cycle of increasing costs.
The introduction of the opportunity to create laneway homes came forward in many municipalities almost ten years ago, and since then has gained much traction as a viable means of leveraging embedded equity and creating opportunities for more housing within established neighborhoods, or as a part of new developments. Laneway homes, carriage homes, or garden suites saw the construction of these accessory dwelling units (ADU) in the range of 500 to 900 sq. ft., and were typically made available to family members, or others but were limited to a rental tenure. The question of stratification of such ADUs or the creation of individual PIDs is on the table and will expand the options for the primary or original homeowner.
When the conversation first turned to laneway homes the hot issues were about size, height, parking, traffic, upsetting neighbourhood ‘character’, service capacity, and infringement on privacy, but all those issues faded as this initiative began to roll out on a broader basis, and many effective and successful iterations began to manifest across the Lower Mainland.
Although an accepted portion of the housing continuum, laneway homes and provision of all ADUs continue to face challenges, and in many cases, these stem from zoning/by-law requirements that are not fully thought out that layer on many overlapping criteria, that are passed through multiple departments with conflicting goals, and that have been subject to lengthy processing and approvals delays sometimes measured in years. Many of these issues are rooted in what can be called a lack of commitment at a staff level as there appeared to be concerted efforts to find ways to say ‘no’ rather than expedite and champion ADUs as contributing one solution to our housing crisis.
The Province’s Homes for People strategy announced on April 3, 2023, introduced the provision to designate every single-family lot across BC as eligible to support 4 – 6 units per lot in the form of suites, and or in conjunction with separate ADUs like a laneway home. The province is now actively engaged in consultations with provincial, and municipal officials, and industry stakeholders to craft the regulations that will enable this ‘gentle density’ to be realized.
The issues being considered are not unfamiliar and do need to be considered with care. Parking is an issue but needs to be considered in the context of available transit options and should not be a driver that constrains available land area/access. Size and floor space ratios (FSR) are crucial as limiting FSR may compromise the opportunity to deliver viable spaces/choices. The provincial plan calls for a maximum of four units on a lot of 9m (30’) frontage. The typical lot depth might be 30m (100’) for a lot area of 270 sq.m., or 3000 sq. ft., and divided by 4 units, which means a maximum of 750 sq. ft. per unit at 1.0 FSR, and that must include access, egress, mechanical and storage spaces, after accommodating on-site parking, setbacks, height limits, and amenity spaces.
The net area left for actual living is tight and by default would suggest that one or two of those units must give up floor space if there is intent to make the others larger to accommodate more bedrooms or family housing opportunities, and the noted example is at 1.0 FSR. The matter needs to allow for flexibility to deliver housing that meets the needs of the people living there and allows the transfer of floor space between units to ensure the built form can adapt to the variety of potential occupants from single students to, young families, to seniors.
As the discussions with the province unfold, the City of Vancouver (CoV) is developing its own regulations to support a similar 4-6 units gentle densification program that will be another duplicate and parallel pathway toward the same end driven by the ‘standalone’ nature of the Vancouver Charter. It can only be hoped that there will be close alignment with the provincial regulations to avoid more unnecessary confusion, layering, and inflated costs.
Staff at CoV have conducted roundtable meetings with stakeholders and are preparing to present the council with a report and recommendations on how this extension of gentle density infill housing can be applied, and FSR (at 1.0 or less) has been a key point of consideration with thresholds that would place a maximum on the main dwelling and or any ADU and will compromise flexibility and balance between the units. Other jurisdictions where such ‘as of right zoning’ has been introduced have set FSR at 1.0 to 1.5 to ensure the required flexibility.
Another item that is becoming an issue is service capacities, and while many existing neighbourhoods have sewer and water capacity based on a higher than existing number of occupants in the existing single-family homes, the hydro service is fixed at the capacity of the existing services. The additional units that could be applied as infill are adding to the hydro loads required and with a concerted effort to push for electrification, including EV charging, space heating and water heating, these requirements are exceeding the capacity of the existing infrastructures. Load specifications being asked for by municipalities appear to be exaggerated and are driving even higher service loads where the cost of upgrading will become prohibitive.
We are also hearing of calls for pad-mounted transformers to be placed on private property for lots seeking to apply for the 4-6 units which will require significant access/service/clearance space further compromising the buildable area, and at a cost that can be measured in six figures. This matter needs to be subject to real-time load calculations, and direct and meaningful involvement by BC Hydro to accept that they need to bear at least some of the burden of ensuring hydro capacity to support these gentle densification initiatives and not download the entire cost onto individual owners on a lot-by-lot basis. Wholesale ‘as of right’ land use policy needs to be supported with service capacity upgrades if required, that is spread across all affected properties to keep services within the established right of ways and mitigate costs.
While the addition of these ADUs does represent growth to a degree, the application of DCCs and or CACs must be tempered to ensure the opportunity remains financially viable for the proponent and the end user who will ultimately bear the cost. If this program is to make a difference it must be viewed through the lens of affordability and given that much of this effort is intended to repopulate under unutilized areas, a direct contribution of “x” dollars per door may not be appropriate.
It must be appreciated that these initiatives are intended to provide much-needed housing for the “missing middle” and do not represent a comprehensive “development play” to drive a major land lift that could be exploited by municipalities to finance a growing list of demands. It has been noted that most laneway homes built to date have been built to create housing opportunities for parents and or children of the homeowners, and do not represent speculative investments.
We are seeing a concerted effort on the part of all levels of government to accelerate and increase the supply of housing, especially for the middle-income earners in our society, but we need to ensure that those priorities are embraced by officials and staff within each level of government to find the means to create the highest and best opportunity for those needing this housing. We need to find ways to enhance flexibility and choices, to encourage innovative and creative solutions, and not to reach into the “old bag” of compounding and conflicting regulations as means of limiting the options and or choices.
HAVAN is actively involved in discussions at the provincial level as well as commenting and offering member input to conversations at the municipal level, but many voices carry more weight and we encourage members to express their opinions and or concerns directly to their elected representatives, provincial and municipal staff, and to HAVAN. Your experience and hands-on knowledge are invaluable and please do not miss the opportunity to provide comments when public consultations are made available.
HAVAN continues to work with CHBA BC and CHBA to advocate for all levels of government to work together to address the challenges of the housing industry including zoning restrictions, density limits, and NIMBYism.
Looking to stay up-to-date on Metro Vancouver’s residential housing industry? Sign up for Ron’s weekly Monday Morning Briefing and other HAVAN emails here.
QUICK BITES …
- The Vancouver Sun features HAVAN member Chris Hill of BCollective and the application of their Build Offsite Sustainable Systems (BOSS) an open platform of specifications that sees the offsite production of Passive Home standard panels. The BOSS components for this 2700 sq.ft. home were delivered and craned into place to bring the home to ‘lock up’ in less than a week. Chris was gracious enough to host a HAVAN site tour for this project, and the concept is well suited to apply to the in-fill housing under the Homes for People strategy, as well as other “smart density” affordable housing opportunities. Compliments to Chris and BCollective.
- The Daily Hive discusses the issue of infrastructure versus density that echoes the concerns raised in the MMB and in this case from the regional perspective of Metro Vancouver, it will commission a study to identify the costs of providing infrastructure and services to different housing forms and densities.
- Build Force Canada on April 28, 2023 released their report and a 10-year forecast for labour in the construction sector. Highlights include:
- The average annual unemployment rate for the sector fell to under 4% in 2022, as employment and the labour force have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
- Non-residential employment rises to a forecast peak of more than 89,000 workers in 2023. It recedes modestly to 2025 as some major projects wind down, and then cycles back upward later in the period, finishing the outlook 2% (+1,400 workers) above 2022 levels.
- Gains in renovation and maintenance employment are expected to offset declines in the new-housing sector, as overall residential employment grows by 6,000 workers (+6%) over 2022 levels.
- The retirement of more than 38,200 workers across the forecast period will increase the industry’s overall hiring requirement to 52,600 workers.
- The City of Surrey will be reporting an update on its guaranteed permitting times to the council this week. Please see the link for the staff report. We would like to receive some member feedback on the times being reported. Single-Family permits are noted at 5.3 weeks, and SF rezonings at 3.7 weeks. Other milestones are noted as well. Any feedback can be sent to email@example.com. Thank you.
- The Community Energy Association is working on a project called Retrofit 101, intended to create a ‘toolkit’ for Realtors and Contractors to engage in conversations with their clients about home energy retrofits and they are looking for renovators to take a quick 8 question survey, to help shape the content to be shared with homeowners.
- Western Living highlights and shines a spotlight on the 2023 HAVAN Awards and High-performance homes featured by the awards. “Showcasing a broad variety of archetypes from innovative laneway homes and infill housing solutions to luxurious ultra-modern houses and condos, plus the full spectrum of multi-family developments, the HAVAN Awards for Housing Excellence offer inspiration and resources for anyone looking to build, design or renovate their home.” To view the full list of HAVAN Awards for Housing Excellence media coverage received to date, please go to HAVAN.ca
- If the lovely weather last weekend has created some anticipation for summer outings and adventures, here are six destinations from Narcity Vancouver to add to your Summer Bucket List!! Cheers.